While many of the more than 1m workers who work over the holiday period elect to do so, often for premium pay, some workers have no choice.
In part 5 of our series on working over Christmas, we speak to Unite senior shop steward and oil rig worker Phil Munro, who, because of the nature of shift patterns on the rigs, will be forced to work from now until the 3rd of January.
“My wife and I got married two years ago – of the several years that we’ve known each other, the last six Christmases we’ve spent apart,” he explains. “It’s been really tough on us. If there is one day out of the year that I wish more than anything to spend at home it’s Christmas Day. Still, we both understand that it’s the nature of the job and I have to.”
Phil, a scaffolder, and his colleagues only get £70 a day extra for working over the Christmas period. This time of the year, the temperature drops dramatically and, even if they aren’t working ‘offboard’ outside the rig, conditions are still freezing.
“It’s definitely difficult,” Phil notes. “But we make the best of a situation that’s not ideal.”
Catering staff, for example, go the extra mile to cook a nice Christmas lunch, and on many rigs, workers get most of the day off on Christmas Day after they’ve tidied up the site and finished other routine tasks.
“Working over the Christmas holidays has gotten a lot better since they installed Wi-Fi on the rigs about ten years ago,” Phil adds. “That way we can Skype and FaceTime with family and friends – it’s not as a lonely of an experience.”
Phil speaks of the struggles many oil workers have had to endure after the price of oil dropped two years ago and plunged the industry into crisis. Tens of thousands of workers have lost their jobs and many of those still working in the sector have been forced to accept worse terms and conditions.
While Phil considers himself lucky that he is on a more long-term, secure contract, many oil workers only have the certainty of a fixed term contract that covers one two-week on/two-week off shift pattern on a rig – many face periods of joblessness when they come home.
“It’s as close to a zero-hours contract as you can get,” he explains.
That’s why Phil sends a message of solidarity to all Unite members to stay strong in the New Year.
“We’ve got to keep organising,” he says.
He sends a special message of thanks to those workers in emergency services such as nurses, police, fire crew and others who work tirelessly to keep everyone safe, both over Christmas and throughout the year.
“Working over Christmas for us oil rig workers is quite different – we do it because of the set pattern and we often get the day off to sit about,” Phil notes. “But workers such as nurses do it to help people – they work 12 hour shifts without breaks and they don’t stop just because it’s Christmas. We should be thankful for all workers who must work over the holiday period but I’m especially thankful for them.”